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By Maria Ross, PebbleStorm Guest Blogger

[Aaron]: I met Maria Ross (no relation to moi) in 2007, when she was doing marketing for a client in a small, but corporate-y software company.  Since she left that job four years ago to do consulting on her own, she’s written a couple of books, appeared on places like MSNBC, NPR, ABC News, and learned a lot about the value of mixing personal details & interests with her work… 

When I began doing branding consulting, I made a clear separation between my business and personal lives.  Working for many years in Corporate America taught me this was the only way things worked – don’t share details about your personal life with clients, it’s “unprofessional”.

Since I started my Unique Genius business over four years ago, times are different.  This article is about how openly sharing personal experiences can add value to a business.   I’ve been evolving my brand (and brain!) to blend more of my personal passions – acting, writing, wine and even inspiration – into my work.  Since branding is all about telling a good story, I can easily find ways to apply my personal experiences to clients (and so can you).

For example, when I started some people said “You should not mention that you’re an actress on your business page.  People may think you are not committed to your branding work.”  But it turns out this little tidbit draws people in and also interests the media.  It helps me stand out.  Engaging in acting from time to time proves my creativity and brings a unique perspective to my business work.  It’s even part of my brand: blending creativity with practical business savvy.

Recently, I wrote a personal book called Rebooting My Brain: How a Freak Aneurysm Reframed My Life.  In it, I share how I almost died from a ruptured brain aneurysm six months after starting my business and the chronicle of my recovery and “return” back into my life.  I wanted to share valuable lessons learned, but I’m also passionate about educating people on the surprising and often unseen effects of brain injury.  While I made a miraculous recovery, I still had to adapt to cognitive and psychological impairments that no one can see but me.

Initially, I was hesitant to share with business contacts that I’d had a brain aneurysm.  I thought clients might think my skills were compromised.  But it turned out people cared; they wanted to know more about how I recovered and built my thriving business back up again.  They were amazed that I’ve written two books since then and have also not lost my public speaking savvy.  In many ways, they see these as signs of my ethic, determination and guts – and these are qualities they want from someone they are going to hire.  With the release of Rebooting My Brain, I actually have a richer connection with my clients and community.

Many more people now are starting their own “microbusiness,” and “personal brands” reign supreme.  Yes, your business has to offer value and show results, but people want to know, like and trust YOU as a person before they do business with you.  Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace that my business really is just me, and if people don’t like me, they are not going to enjoy working with me (and vice versa) no matter what I can deliver.

The name of the brand game today is approachability, humanity, and connection.  People don’t want to hire automatons.  Feel free to bring your natural voice, insights and experiences into the mix – just try to find ways to tie some of that into audience value.  I often cite cool movies, great restaurants or playful ads that I adore personally with my community to showcase certain points I’m making.

I hear you saying…”but I am targeting alpha-male executives in big corporations, they don’t want to hear anything personal.” You are right.  They want results.  Bring something about yourself to the table without going off-topic; you’ll add real value.

With the release of my personal book, my business relationships have actually become stronger.  My community gets to see a new side of me.  Anyone can be a brand strategist, but how many people have survived (and thrived) after a brain aneurysm?! Plus, it’s helped me branch out in my work: I’m now asked to speak not just on branding to business audiences but on health literacy and the patient experience to medical audiences.

There is more synergy:  I did a presentation to business owners about the branding lessons you can learn from brain injury! It was funny, memorable and most of all, full of practical advice for their businesses.

As you build your Unique Genius or passion business, think about the answers to these questions (jot down the answers on a piece of paper if you can right now):

  1. How do your personal experiences, talents and passions add value to others?
  2. How can your experiences shape YOUR business, YOUR life, YOUR mission?

Even if you don’t yet have your own business, try to incorporate more of you into your current job in a way that adds value.

PebbleStorm guest blogger, Maria Ross is chief brand strategist and creator of Red Slice, a digital elixir of stories and strategies to boost your business, your brand and your brain.  She advises start-ups, solopreneurs and small growth companies on how to craft brands that engage, inform and delight customers.  Maria is the author of Branding Basics for Small Business and the just released humorous and heartfelt memoir Rebooting My Brain.  A dynamic speaker, she is highly sought-after to present keynotes and workshops and has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, ABC News and in Entrepreneur, The LA Times, Seattle Business and Columbus CEO. 

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